Should a company that includes the phrase “don’t be evil” in their code of conduct be expected to block counterfeiters from buying ads on their search engine result pages? Is it “evil” to sell AdWords to websites that are filled with copyright infringing photos?
These questions are unfortunately relevant — for certain product categories, Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) are filled with links to counterfeiters utilizing copyright-infringing photos.
Take the product category of [Dresses > Formal Gowns]. A significant percentage of sponsored ads on the SERPs promote the sites’ of counterfeiters, especially for queries related to [prom dresses].
It is not terribly difficult to identify the copyright-infringing sites that are among the top bidders for [prom dress]-related sponsored ads. Simply check the sites that are buying their way to the top of the search engine results against Google’s transparency reports for these sites. (You can use the search box on the left hand side of the page to search for a specific site/company.)
Among the websites buying AdWords sponsored ads for [prom dress] related terms, approximately half of these websites are filled with copyright-infringing photos of designer dresses.
And if you care to get a bit more granular, search for terms such as [cheap Mac Duggal] or [discount Sherri Hill] via Google. (Full disclosure: Mac Duggal is my employer.)
Many of the websites buying search ads for these terms — including prom designers’ trademarked brand names — are counterfeiters. Once again, it is easy to confirm that many of the sites buying sponsored ads for these terms are copyright infringers by checking Google’s own transparency reports.
The prom and special-occasion dress product categories are target rich for counterfeiters. A common occurrence is for a teenage girl to come into a boutique, look at a designer dress, and then “showroom” the boutique by searching on Google. There, they discover links to offshore online stores with photos of (what appears to be) the exact same dress — selling for less than half the price.
Of course, the result of buying a cheap prom dress from an offshore retailer is fairly similar to that of buying a “rolex” from a New York street peddler. When the dress arrives (if it does arrive), there are lots of tears flowing from the naive teenager buyer who wanted a special dress for her special night.
The consequences of counterfeiters utilizing AdWords to rip off naïve buyers is having a ripple effect that is hitting special-occasion dress retailers particularly hard. Google’s lax filtering of counterfeiters victimizes both teenage girls preparing for prom and fashion retailers’ whose businesses are losing hundreds of thousands of sales per year.
According to Jon Liney, co-founder of DaphneDresses.com, GoldenAspProm.com and DressGoddess.com, American prom designers and American prom retailers lost estimated retail sales of more than $90 million dollars and 300,000 dresses to counterfeiters’ websites in 2012. The sales that special-occasion dress retailers are losing to copyright-infringing websites is putting many out of business and costing jobs.
Of course, the counterfeiting problem isn’t specific to the prom dress vertical. Any brand investing time and money in new products only to have counterfeiters beat them out on Google faces a significant threat to their business as a result. There is recourse in the form of Google’s Counterfeit Good Complaint Form, but of course that puts the onus on retailers (rather than search engines) to prevent counterfeiters from showing up in results.
Going back to the original question in this post: Is Google “evil” for not doing a better job filtering out counterfeiters? The search engine giant proved that they have the capability to do so in the case of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Should Google be expected to put a stronger effort into blocking counterfeiters in order to meet the standards set by their code of conduct?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.